Scott and Colleen Valkoun and their two daughters. (Submitted photo)
On the one hand, marriage could be viewed as an intensely personal experience — a grace conferred upon the two people who enter into this covenant, and concerning them alone. On the other hand, Christian marriage is an inherently community-oriented reality, a public witness to discipleship that, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, “is the force that welds society together.” When two baptized persons marry, Christ has raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament.
Forming a bridge between these two aspects of marriage, the private and the public, is the family of the husband and wife — their children, either those shared by the couple biologically or those from previous relationships. They, too, experience the dignity of this relationship, and since, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, marriage introduces the couple into an ecclesial order, it also “creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children.” (CCC 1631)
For the family of Colleen and Scott Valkoun of Wauwatosa, this was certainly the case. Both Colleen and Scott had children from previous relationships when they had their civil marriage to one another convalidated, or recognized as valid, at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa in 2014. At the end of a two-and-a-half year marriage nullity process, the convalidation — which took place during Sunday Mass, for the entire community to witness — was something of “a kickoff” for them as a family, said Scott.
“For me, it was the end of that long journey and the beginning of our life with God together,” he said. Scott Valkoun has two grown sons of his own and also parents Colleen’s two daughters, who were in middle school and elementary school at the time of his marriage to their mother.
The work of the nullity process had compelled Colleen and Scott to reflect carefully on the mistakes that had brought their previous relationships to a close, said Colleen, adding that the fruit of that reflection was something that benefited the children as well.
“I think a big part of what we both found out through this process, and why our first marriages maybe weren’t successful, is because we didn’t have that faith at the forefront,” she said. “This time around, we wanted to make sure that we were both growing our personal relationships with God, encouraging our children to grow their relationships with God, growing as a couple and looking at what God has intended for us as a couple.”
Validation of a marriage in the Catholic Church takes place “when the parties, aware that they are not married validly in the Catholic Church, celebrate the marriage ceremony ‘again,’” said Fr. Ricardo Martin, vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese. “In other words, they give a new consent to each other. For the Catholic Church, this ‘second’ time is the one that counts.”
Though civil marriage confers a legal structure upon a couple’s relationship, it is only a valid marriage within the Church that brings with it the recognition that this is a true and binding, fruitful, life-long and faithful relationship — of which one of the effects is the ability to bring up children in the fear and love of God.
For the Valkouns, the validation may not have been particularly glamorous — “our neighbors were our witnesses, and our daughter was wearing her soccer uniform,” said Colleen with a laugh — but it was a profound turning point for them as a family. Colleen said that she believes it influenced their daughters’ decision to switch from public to Catholic education for high school, and has definitely impacted how they discuss relationships and marriage with their girls.
“My younger daughter loves the show ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ but we always talk about remembering that it’s not just about the wedding — it’s about the marriage,” said Colleen. “For us, the most important thing is being in church and having God and the community of our faith recognize that. That blessing and that relationship is the most important thing.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “to heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God, in his infinite mercy, never refuses them. Without his help, man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them ‘in the beginning.’” (CCC 1608)
It’s a detail that can so easily get lost in secular culture, said Colleen. “You forget when everybody goes home, there is this thing called a relationship and a marriage, and it’s really, really hard.”
“We believe sacraments are a special moment of grace, and we believe that that grace is made available to the baptized couple that marries following the Catholic ritual,” said Fr. Martin. “Through the sacrament of matrimony, the Church teaches that Jesus gives the strength to live the real meaning of marriage.”
Years later, the Valkouns say they are gratified to know that several other couples at their parish have gone through the process of validation, inspired by their wedding at Sunday Mass back in 2014.
“I just felt really good and relieved afterward — like this was a long journey of self-examination and examination of my relationship with God and mistakes I have made,” said Colleen. “It felt like a baptism of sorts. We were renewed and we could go forward.”